OTTAWA, ON (January 12, 2023): On January 9, Defence Minister Anita Anand announced that Canada has finally approved the final contract to buy 88 F-35 fighter aircraft. This follows Ottawa’s initial statement in March 2022 that the F-35 was its preferred next-generation fighter, followed by months of negotiations with both Lockheed Martin and the US government.
MLI has long been at the forefront in recommending the acquisition of the F-35. Senior Fellows Richard Shimooka and Christian Leuprecht have written op-eds and testified at numerous Parliamentary committees on the benefits of acquiring the aircraft.
Shimooka, in particular, has been a strong, long-standing supporter of the F-35, having authored numerous MLI commentaries and in-depth reports on Canada’s fighter aircraft replacement program.
The $19 billion deal to purchase the F-35, which may reach upwards of $70 billion over the fleet’s life-cycle, is long overdue. Indeed, it follows 13 years of inaction and mismanagement by both Conservative and Liberal governments, with the former first planning on sole-source acquiring the aircraft before quickly reversing course over controversy of its cost, while the latter first promising to not purchase the aircraft at all during the 2015 election – until it eventually decided to pursue an open competition that the F-35 then handily won.
The Liberal’s delay in procuring a next-generation fighter aircraft have been particularly noteworthy, with procurement bungles like its cancelled plans to acquire an interim Super Hornet fleet as a stop-gap measure, which was widely criticized as a way to implicitly shape the open competition in favour of Boeing’s Super Hornet aircraft.
In an MLI report, published in 2019, titled The Catastrophe: Assessing the Damage from Canada’s Fighter Replacement Fiasco, Shimooka nicely summarized the current government’s abject failure on the fighter jet procurement file.
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has had to contend with an increasingly obsolete fleet, which was already becoming less and less capable of effectively operating against advanced and sophisticated adversaries. This also contributed to the RCAF’s poor retention rate: personnel aware of the force’s perilous state due to years of neglect and inaction have given up and left the service.
Shimooka also penned an op-ed in The Hub a few days before the January 9 announcement. In it, he criticized the delay between the government’s initial March 2022 announcement on the F-35 and the completion of the acquisition contract, which has only further set back its own selection process.
“The reality is that it reflects a serious governance failure around the procurement,” notes Shimooka. “This was a needlessly drawn-out process that further increased the cost to Canadians and detrimentally affected the country’s security.”
By finalizing the contract to purchase the F-35 fighter aircraft, the Trudeau government finally puts an end to the over decade-long saga to replace Canada’s fighter aircraft fleet. The government should be commended for finalizing the acquisition, and we hope it learns the right lessons as it pursues other major defence procurement projects in the future.
For an overview of the history of the F-35 debacle up until this point, Richard Shimooka sat with Christoph Bergs of Military Aviation History in a special feature to dissect two decades of political twists and turns. Watch the interview here.
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